A wildlife sanctuary in Takeo province may provide refuge for birds, but it’s a source of contention for 68 Khmer Krom families who stand to lose their livelihood.
The local fisheries administration wants to evict villagers from the state-owned sanctuary in Borei Cholsar district, but the families say they’ve owned their rice fields since emigrating from Vietnam in the early 1990s, long before a sanctuary was established.
“It was made into conservation land by a 2007 sub-decree to protect cranes and other wildlife, but villagers claimed no authorities came to measure or mark it as state forest and they rarely see cranes,” Adhoc provincial coordinator Un Thanann said.
Thanann said he gave villagers complaint papers to file for further investigation, but that Adhoc did not want to be “accused of incitement” and would not be representing the villagers in a court hearing tomorrow.
Vy Mai, 41, a villager who was questioned in court last Thursday, said he was willing to part with his four hectares if it would be incorporated into the sanctuary and not passed to land concession-holders.
“I asked the court to give me 10 days to harvest my rice, and then if the authorities want my land for the sanctuary I will give it back,” he said, adding he had not been offered compensation.
According to a 2001 land law, Cambodia grants squatters’ rights after five or more years of continuous occupation, but land monitors say the policy is rarely implemented.
“The procedure to register land is very complicated and many ethnic minorities and indigenous people are not educated on the process of the law, so the government takes advantage of the situation and grants land concessions to companies and powerful men,” said Vann Sophat, land reform coordinator at the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.
Mai said the families have been locked in a dispute with Mao Nhorn since 1996, when the commune chief was granted a 100-hectare concession.
“If I had not built a canal in 1996, the villagers would have no water for their rice fields,” Nhorn said.
Fisheries Administration officials declined to comment.